Oh look, there’s that tabby cat hanging out in the garden again! What should I do?
We get questions about cats seen outdoors all the time! Here are some questions to ask yourself when you see a cat outdoors, before you take action.
Please be aware that in the state of Maine, if you feed an animal for ten days, that animals is legally yours. That doesn’t mean you can’t get help if you’ve already been feeding a cat, but it does change what specific actions the SPCA can take. When you call about an outdoor cat, please tell us whether you’ve been caring for them. We will still do our best to find a good solution for the cat (and you), but we need to know this so that we understand the situation you’re asking for our assistance with.
- Does the cat look healthy?
If the cat has shiny fur, is in good body condition, and is acting normally, there is a good chance they are either being cared for, or are able to access food and shelter on their own. BEFORE calling anyone or trying to catch the cat, see the next questions.
If the cat has patchy, dull, or badly matted fur, or is in poor body condition, or is acting strangely, there is something wrong and they may need help. CALL YOUR LOCAL Animal Control Officer FIRST to ask for assistance. Cats that appear unhealthy may SCRATCH or BITE or FLEE. In most situations, you should NOT approach the cat without the guidance of your ACO.
Animal Control Officers work closely with the SPCA when appropriate to house cats that are found outside. The SPCA has NO VET on staff, so we are not able to assist directly with outdoor cats who appear unhealthy. PLEASE call your ACO first. If you are having trouble finding their number, you can call the SPCA and we will give you the number of the ACO for your town.
- Does the cat have an eartip?
An eartip is the removal of just the pointy end of one ear. This is typically visible from a distance, as one ear looks different than the other. A cat who has an eartip is a cat who HAS BEEN SPAYED OR NEUTERED, and has BEEN RABIES VACCINATED, and HAS A CARETAKER. You are looking at a feral cat who has been captured, received care, and released to a managed colony. All is well; this cat is doing fine. TAKE NO FURTHER ACTION.
No eartip, or you can’t tell? BEFORE calling anyone or trying to catch the cat, see the next questions.
- Does the cat belong to someone?
Particularly if the cat seems friendly, or unused to being outside, this cat may have a home with one of your neighbors. This can be true even if you don’t recognize the cat! Many people let their cats outside, and there are no laws in the state of Maine forbidding or restricting this. If you can GET A PICTURE of the cat, this can be crucial for finding out if the cat has a home. You can ASK AROUND your neighborhood, POST on Facebook asking if anyone knows the cat, or request that we POST A FLYER at the SPCA if you believe the cat you’re looking at has a home, and isn’t supposed to be outdoors.
If the cat is friendly, there is another method you can try before calling the ACO. It’s called the Paper Collar Trick. Take a strip of paper and write on it, “This cat visits me and I’m worried it’s a stray. Please call me if it’s yours,” and your phone number. Fold or roll the strip so that it forms a collar shape, and get some tape ready so that you can tape the ends together. Next time you’re able to pet the cat, put the paper collar on them and tape it so that you can fit two fingers under the collar. (Don’t tape the whole collar; you want the cat to be able to escape if they get stuck on something.) If the owner sees the collar on the cat, they will likely take it off, see your note, and give you a call. This can prevent you from accidentally kidnapping your neighbor’s kitty! (If you would like a template to make the collar, click here.)
If you have already captured this cat, CALL a veterinarian or the SPCA. We or the vet can SCAN FOR A MICROCHIP. This would allow you to reunite the cat with their owner. Please DO NOT just appear at the shelter or vet’s office with the cat! CALL AHEAD. Both the SPCA and any vet you contact will be happy to figure out how best to help. We will need some information from you FIRST about the situation, before we can advise the best course of action. Remember, you may be kidnapping your neighbor’s cat! We also have a very small staff, and it’s MUCH easier for us to assist you if we know what is going on beforehand.
- Is the cat pregnant, or can you see kittens?
If so, CALL YOUR LOCAL Animal Control Officer FIRST. It is likely that they will want to capture the mom and kittens and get them into a safer environment. BE CAREFUL around any mom cat – she may be defensive or frightened and may not be vaccinated. It is best to let the ACO guide the next steps. The ACO may work with the SPCA of Hancock County to house and place the mother and kittens.
The SPCA has a very small staff and limited ability to come capture them directly, but if you are willing to help set live traps in coordination with the ACO we may be able to provide traps. If you have questions about how to do this, please CALL. We will ask if you have contacted your ACO, and can provide you with their number if you are having trouble finding it. Efforts to help outdoor mom cats require coordination, so please keep in mind that when we ask these questions, we’re trying to figure out the best way to assist you. All we’re looking for is a clear understanding of the situation so that we know how to help.
If this seems like an overwhelming amount of information, remember that you can always call us and ask about your situation! Although we have a small staff and may at times have limited space in our facility, we are dedicated to helping the animals of our community. If we can’t help directly, we will do our best to refer you to someone who can.
And lastly – thank you for being concerned with the wellbeing of the animals in our community! When everyone pays attention to the animals around them, we have a stronger network for providing help to those in need.